Wednesday 31 March 2010

Quote of the week!

...from a vet, this time - the friend who was out on Charlie on Saturday, who emailed me yesterday. We spent lots of time talking about hooves, and the fascinating changes you get in horses going barefoot and working hard over tough terrain. It was the first time he had hunted a barefoot horse, and we were also talking about the possibilities for more ongoing research.

"Having ridden a barefoot horse for 21 miles over the pretty rugged conditions of Exmoor on Saturday, I am very interested to see what is actually going on in these horses' feet."

Edited to add: I CANNOT BELIEVE IT - more snow last night - for Pete's sake, its April tomorrow, and we came home in a blizzard last night, and there is snow lying and gale force winds this morning...Horses all in the barn refusing to go out - don't blame them (except Bailey, crazy witch is on the track for reasons best known to herself...). Tractor has a bust tyre so am waiting for that to be repaired, then can at least move enough haylage to keep all horses and cows happy for the next few days despite the weather. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Over 2000 miles!

We had a beautiful day on Saturday, after a week of almost non-stop rain (which has turned the fields back into swamps and thoroughly depressed livestock and people alike); it was warm AND sunny - a perfect Exmoor day, when there seemed no better place in the world to be :-)

I hunted Angel, and friends visiting from up country hunted Felix and Charlie, so we had a lot of fun. Angel is now so good that he is a pure pleasure to take out, even over bad ground, and even though he hasn't got the incredible level of core fitness fit that the other two have; he has made incredible progress over the short time since January.

Felix and Charlie were just delighted to be hunting, as always, and gave the visitors a lovely day, or so they said - horses and riders all came home very happy, at all events.

It was a fairly steady day yesterday, and we did just over 20 miles - the GPS batteries died at 19.5 miles, so I had to guesstimate the final total, but it was somewhere around the 22 mile mark.

In total, the horses have now done over 2000 miles this season, all told - impressive, I think! If we hadn't had such severe weather from Christmas onwards, the total would be much higher, but there are still several weeks to go before the end of the season so the final figure will be higher again.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Lexus - footage from day one

Footage of Lexus on the day he arrived - I've been remiss in posting it, but here he is at last.

As you can see, a fairly typical toe-first landing on his worst (LF) limb.

Friday 26 March 2010

Performance-enhancing drugs?

I saw someone describing shoes as "a way of improving performance" and then I heard Chris Evans on Radio 2 talking about the Olympics, and the fact that artificial aids are banned - you have to rely on human ability alone, to compete. It got me thinking as I was mucking out - which is when I do most of my thinking :-)

I wondered whether there will ever be a time when horseshoes are banned from competitions. After all, shoes are a great way of artificially improving the capacity of a weak hoof to perform, just as bute can allow a horse to work beyond its natural comfort level, or performance enhancing drugs can allow an athlete to compete above and beyond the limits of their natural ability.

Of course, now that the FEI is potentially allowing horses to compete on bute, we are into a whole new area (!) - but if in principle you agree that horses should be assessed without the masking effect of painkillers, then perhaps horses should also be assessed without shoes?

The truly fit and healthy horses don't need bute to compete, just as truly fit and healthy hooves don't need shoes - now that would be revolutionary, wouldn't it?! :-) I can't see it happening in 2012, somehow....

Thursday 25 March 2010

More rehab footage

This time its Frankie, a very short comparison of him trotting up the lane, firstly on the day he arrived and secondly a few days ago. He has a way to go before he is comfortable trotting on such a hard surface, but he is definitely improving.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Now that's what I call rock-crunching

Sometimes people think that because we live on Exmoor the ground we ride over is always soft - so this clip shows the other side of the terrain we go over. There are masses of tracks like this on the moor, and the barefoot horses walk, trot, canter or gallop over them.

The 2 horses in the film have both done many miles along tracks like these - and collectively our horses have done thousands of miles over the years.

Both the horses in this film came to us in shoes, and both had been long-term lame, one with navicular syndrome and one with check ligament injuries to both front limbs.

I am posting the HD footage here so click on the link if you prefer to see it high definition ;-)

Monday 22 March 2010

One for Monday morning!

Sam and I went out onto the moor on Sunday to film rock-crunching hooves, but Angel had other ideas...I'll post the rock-crunching footage later, but this was too good to miss :-)

Friday 19 March 2010

Old boys' update

I had a call from Blue's owner yesterday - he is a rehab horse from last year, who went home to Cornwall in July. There is lots about him in posts from last year, including (of course!) lots of hoof shots - like the ones here:

Anyway, he's been home a while now, and with the help of Blue's lovely owner and Jeremy Hyde, from Eqwest, who is her vet, we are trying to arrange for a follow-up report on him for Project Dexter. In her message, Blue's owner says "his feet are brilliant and pounding away on gravel for miles and miles"!

Meanwhile Dexter has had a really busy few weeks since the snow, competing in BSJA events and doing dressage on his weekends off (!) with a view to eventing in a couple of months time. Apparently he's famous (a) because he jumps barefoot and (b) because a couple of years ago everyone thought he'd be dead by now :-)

Thursday 18 March 2010

A Rehabilitated Angel

Angel on arrival in 2009...and today

Angel has been absolutely fantastic recently, and I thought he deserved a blog post of his own, as well as a snippet of footage of him that Sam took a week or so ago.

I haven't got any clips of him hunting yet, but he has been a joy to have out - he was even complimented by the master last week, for his lovely attitude and his improvement over the season :-)

His progress has been impressive, I think - he arrived with little experience of anything other than an arena, after being imported from the Netherlands. His previous owner understandably couldn't hack him out much as he was lame within 3 days. After speaking to Caroline Trayes, she bravely sent him here but he arrived on 2 bute per day. He was initially desperately unhappy on uneven ground and struggled with even the gentlest slopes.

He has an interesting medial deviation to his hooves, which is critical to his soundness, but which may become less dramatic over time - I'll post photos of his feet another day.

Meanwhile, although its taken time, he is now a horse who loves going out over Exmoor, is confident on his own or in groups of horses and can go over rocky tracks, up steep hills and through even deep, boggy ground without losing his cool. An angel indeed :-)

Wednesday 17 March 2010

While we are on the subject of research...

...I was reading a veterinary report yesterday on a horse diagnosed with "navicular" - ie pain which had blocked to the palmar/caudal hoof of the front limb - and there were several treatment options recommended.

The first was bar shoes and wedges. The problem is that there is no research to support this as a successful treatment, as far as I am aware, although its often put forward as a therapy. Anecdotally, I know of a number of horses where they gave a temporary improvement, but I don't know of any where the shoes resulted in a "cure" - despite the fact that "corrective shoeing" is normally the first resort for these types of horses.

The second option was to work the horse on bute. That may be pragmatic, but its hardly treatment.

The third option was to de-nerve it. Again, pragmatic, but not a treatment.

Other common treatments include drug therapies like tiludronate (Tildren) - which at least IS backed by research, but is much less commonly used.

Lets bear in mind that according to the Animal Health Trust's research (which we used as a basis for Project Dexter), 95% of all horses with this type of pain who also show bone degeneration and soft tissue damage fail to return to their previous level of work. All the horses in that study underwent "corrective shoeing" but of course that very process is itself not research based.

When you look at these photos, even a child can see that the back of the shod horse's hoof is not engaged and isn't working. So why are we still clinging to shoes as a remedy for palmar/caudal hoof pain?

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Exciting news on Project Dexter! horse number 10 will be arriving at Rockley later this week. He is another "navicular" horse, diagnosed by local vets on the basis of nerve blocks and x-rays, and is currently in bar shoes.

Its exciting not just because of being a new arrival but also because once we have had 10 horses through Project Dexter we should be able to publish the results as a pilot study.

Obviously there is a long way to go - it will be several more months before the current horses have completed their rehabilitation, and then we also need follow-up assessments by their vets, but we are definitely making progress :-)

Monday 15 March 2010

Medio-lateral balance changing

I'm attaching clips of Bobby, whose owners came to visit him this weekend. There is a lot going on with Bobby's hooves and limbs, and so many changes are taking place that his whole body is affected, not just his footfall.

The clip shows him on the day he arrived and after 6 weeks. Because he had very thin soles when he arrived, we have had to start working him incredibly gradually, and it will be some time before he is in full work.

For now, his landing is beginning to improve, both in terms of heel first/toe first and his medio-lateral balance. For this horse, I think the latter may well prove to be the most important, but we will see...More to follow...

Friday 12 March 2010

"Thin soles"

These are shots of the same sole, the lower photo being the day he arrived for rehab, and the upper photo taken yesterday, when he had been here just over 5 weeks.

If you look at the collateral grooves, either side of the frog, you can see that on arrival they were very shallow, and have now deepened considerably. This is a good indication that his sole is correspondingly increasing in depth and thickness, and is now providing much more protection for the pedal bone.

People often talk about horses having "thin soles" as if its some sort of pre-determined life sentence. These photos show how quickly horses can grow thicker soles IF we only give them the chance.

Funny old thing, their frogs and heels improve as well...

Thursday 11 March 2010

Don't shoot the farrier!

Obviously, most of the horses who come here for rehabilitation have been shod - many come in shoes, and we take those off when they arrive.

Luckily for me, most of these horses improve radically out of shoes - its why we carry on doing what we do down here :-) But for me, those first few weeks - when a horse has just come out of shoes and is at the earliest stages of growing a better hoof - are nerve-wracking. I am always desperate for the horse to get a healthier hoof as soon as possible - and so is the owner, and so is the horse - but however much I might wish I had a magic wand and could produce better hooves overnight, I have to accept that I can't, and that large doses of time and patience are required along with the right diet, environment and work level.

It got me thinking the other day, because of course most of the farriers who have shod these horses up till the time they come to me are in the same position. Like me, they are trying to improve the horse's hoof health and biomechanics, and I am sure that they care equally passionately about making and keeping these horses as comfortable and sound as possible.

The majority of the horses who come here have been through a number of different remedial farriery options, but despite that have got worse and worse - it must have been absolutely soul-destroying for the farriers involved. There's sometimes a perception that its barefoot vs farriery, but of course its not - we are all trying to do the best for the horse.

PS: I am sure that there are many horses for whom remedial farriery options work well, but of course we don't see those horses down here.

Wednesday 10 March 2010


...was another topic at the National Equine Forum last week. Like Prof Pat Harris' talk on gastric ulcers, it was short and to the point, but highlighted some very useful new information.

The talk was given by Chris Proudman, one of the vets at Liverpool's equine centre. Resistance to wormers has been a growing problem in other species, particularly sheep, for a while, but it was good to hear the veterinary profession being pro-active about trying to counter about resistance in horses.

The problem with just routinely dosing horses for worms every x weeks is two-fold: firstly, you are much more likely to create worms which are resistant to wormers, over time; secondly, you are dosing horses with a fairly potent amount of chemicals without knowing whether they need it or not - and in many cases those chemicals will affect their hooves as well.

Here's a fascinating fact courtesy of Chris Proudman's talk: 80% of the worm burden is found in 20% of the horses.

That was a lightbulb moment for me, because at Rockley we use FECs instead of worming willy-nilly, and we find that some horses always have a low count, some always have a moderate count, despite being managed in the same way on the same farm.

So why would you worm all the horses on a yard, when only a percentage of them actually need worming?

There is a whole other question about why some horses are more prone to a worm burden than others, but there is no doubt that worms can cause catastrophic damage, so we can't just ignore them. For those who are interested in being a bit more strategic about worming, there is masses more information at the University of Liverpool website:

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Up and down, round and round

One of the features that consistently crops up with taking horses out of shoes, especially rehab horses who have suffered long term lameness, is that they often just don't seem to know where their feet are.

Hooves have an amazing ability to transmit information to the horse about his environment IF they are healthy hooves, but this ability is one of the many things that suffers when horses' feet aren't functioning correctly. I've posted about this before, but very little research has been done.

I am sometimes asked why an owner would send a horse here rather than simply taking its shoes off and turning it out into a field. One of my responses is that we can often improve a horse much faster here than an owner can at home, or on a livery yard, and I am convinced that the tracks and surfaces we use are a big factor which drives that improvement.

The tracks don't just go on the level but send horses up and down, into the wood and over streams, along slopes and round corners. They have to negotiate constant changes in ground and gradient and different depths of surface. There are trees, branches hedges and banks to be dealt with, as well (of course) as other horses.

In this week's Horse and Hound, Lucinda Green wrote about the need for eventers to develop cleverness and dexterity, and how restrictive modern training can prevent this:

"He needs to practise stumbling over rough ground and treeroots in walk, learn to splash through puddles, mess about in roadside ditches and up and down banks and develop his trust in himself and his rider"

She goes on to say later in the article that young horses, instead of being drilled in classes for 4 yr olds, should be "roughing it across the likes of Exmoor"! :-)

We aren't training eventers here, but the point is the same - horses need to learn through trial and error how best to manage their feet and work in a way which is biomechanically correct. Rehab horses need also to develop their sense of proprioception, which is inevitably stunted in shoes and when they have been lame for prolonged periods.

Roughing it over Exmoor is a great way to learn, but the tracks and yards allow them scope to practise on the "nursery slopes", and in a controlled environment.

Monday 8 March 2010

Rehab updates

Frankie's owner came to visit him this weekend, and although it was freezing, it was at least dry!

Frankie has made good progress over the last 4 weeks - he has a way to go, but it took him a while to become unsound, and equally it will take a while for him to rebuild a healthier hoof.
I'm attaching some clips showing his progress so far.

Friday 5 March 2010

Ad lib haylage

At the National Equine Forum the format was lots of short (15-20 min) presentations on a very wide variety of subjects, from the horse in art to exercising endoscopy - there was certainly no chance to get bored, and if you listened to something that didn't seem appropriate, then within 10 minutes or so it was bound to change. Which is a rather relevant parallel given the rest of this post ;-)

One of the very practical presentations was on gastric ulcers. Professor Pat Harris ran through recent research and very sensibly provided bullet point, down to earth information which can be incorporated into everyday horse management as a way of minimising ulcers.

I already knew that the system here, of feeding ad lib haylage, with high fibre and low starch hard feed, and allowing constant access to the track, was a safe one, and unlikely to cause gastric ulcers, but it was fascinating to have the specific risk factors set out.

High starch meals, inadequate fibre and intermittent feeding (with horses left without fibre for 6 hours or more) are the key risk factors, along with not having access to water during turnout, interestingly. Exercise worsens the ulceration, probably because a horse fed improperly has no way of preventing acid from "splashing" into the non -glandular area of the stomach, unlike a properly fed horse.

The way we manage horses here is designed to be good for their feet, but its also good for their stomachs and at the end of the day it just reaffirms the need to keep a horse like a horse. They evolved to eat in a particular way and to live in a particular way. If you try to stray too far from that then you are fighting against nature, and problems are likely to result.

This isn't supposed to sound smug, by the way - far from it - we've ended up both with the tracks and the diet we feed after a huge amount of trial and error and many, many mistakes. But the interesting thing is that by approaching hooves holistically, you usually find that you benefit the whole horse :-)

Thursday 4 March 2010

National Equine Forum

I am at the NEF today but there is one very short but very appropriate
quote from it which I had to post:

"I have yet to find any problem which, when looked at in the proper
way, does not become yet more complicated."

Lots of good informtion coming out here on tried and tested subjects
like worming and ulcers but funnily enough nothing on barefoot ;-)

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Strange bruising

Bruising in the hoof wall is often something that worries owners - although of course in actual fact it only worries the owners of horses with white hooves, since the owners of horses with black hooves never see bruising ;-)

Normally, its not something that I am concerned about, because with (white-hooved) horses who work hard on varied terrain, its quite common for them to occasionally have a bruise in the hoof wall which you can see, but which does not cause them any problems. These "normal" bruises are much more common on hind feet and are usually small and irregular. As I have 3 or 4 white feet on most of my hunters, its something I see a LOT!

I imagine they are usually caused by an impact from a rock or stone - and if you watch horses going up a really steep, rocky path its easy to see how it can happen. I always think its a bit the same for those of us who work predominantly outside - you will nearly always have a knock or bruise somewhere but will hardly notice it - its just one of those things.

One client's horse though has lots of bruising on his front feet, and last time I saw him both I and his owner were worried about how much bruising there was. I knew he was on an excellent diet, and lived in an environment which was ideal for hooves, so we were really puzzled about what could be going wrong.

Eventually, though, we worked it out: this horse is completely blind in one eye, and has poor vision in the other. He had lost his sight gradually, and knows his home so well that you would never guess he had limited vision as you watch him move around. The problem is that he is now very prone to banging his head, and damaging his eye, because of his restricted vision, so he has developed a way to protect himself - he uses his front feet to test out where he is going.

Of course, this saves his head and eyes, but does make him much more prone to bruising his front feet. There is always a reason, you just need to find it!

Monday 1 March 2010

"Sharp" horses

Something I've observed with the horses who come here as rehabs is that occasionally they seem to change in ways other than their feet.

For instance, Dexter, Hector and Angel were all described as "sharp" on arrival but became progressively more and more relaxed. You could certainly describe Dex and Hex as "forward-going" once they were sound again, but you wouldn't honestly say much more than that - although Hex as we know can be opinionated out hunting, from time to time(!)...

You could hardly think of a less appropriate description of Angel now than "sharp". "Placid" would be nearer the mark, although the sudden appearance of a herd of cows, or a day's hunting can tip him into "forward-going" mode.

Bearing in mind that all these horses had long-term foot pain, and almost certainly related shoulder and back pain, you have to suspect that the "sharpness" was in fact a reaction to discomfort or anticipated pain, since it reduced or disappeared completely once they had healthier hooves.